Tag: church

Fearing Community & Telling the Truth

Truth isn’t popular.  It was G. K. Chesterton that said some 60 years ago that: “humility has moved from the organ of ambition to the organ of truth.” We are humble about the wrong thing—about what is true not our ambitious agendas to be loved. If truth is out, speaking truthfully certain isn’t in, unless it serves your agenda (see presidential campaign). Yet, in Ephesians four St. Paul reminds us that the church, God’s new humanity, are to be a people who “speak the truth in love”, who put away lies, and speak truthfully to one another.

The Discomfort of Truth

We don’t like the truth, as a culture, unless it serves us. A local T.V. station recently interviewed locals about their presidential votes. When asking a hipster whom he was going to vote for, he replied: “I’m not voting.” When asked why he said: “I’m apathetic and uninformed.” What should we think about his response? It is admirable that he told the truth about why he isn’t voting…but his commitment to the truth has limitations. Notice that he didn’t embrace the truth that voting in democratic society isn’t just a right but a responsibility. Why? That truth forces him to act, to register, to get informed, to go to the voting site and make a choice. Here we see two values in conflict: truth and comfort. With the hipster, comfort trumped truth. He prefers apathy over principle. He’s committed to the truth only as long as it serves him. Many of us are like him. We prefer comfort over truth.

But wait a minute, there’s a flaw in following this line of thinking. It assumes that truth sometimes is for your good and other times it isn’t. But the truth actually always serves our good, no matter how uncomfortable it is. The discomfort of voting contributes to flourishing democracy and freedom. If I yell at my 17 month old to tell her the truth about putting her finger in the outlet (“That will kill you”), it serves her well, despite the discomfort of her tears. Or take the first example of speaking truthfully in verse 26. “Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger.” It’s true that it’s unwise to let anger stew (Prov. 16:32). Yet, we are often slow to correct one another over frustration, complaining attitudes, and anger. Women let gossip go by and men empower anger. We sympathize with anger because it’s more comfortable than correcting it. But unchecked anger is destructive. Anger starts as a mild complaint, festers, and then creates distance in relationships and eventually dissention in the community. Anger tears marriages and community apart. But what would happen in that marriage if someone had loved them enough to speak truthfully? To exhort them to resolve conflict before the sun goes down, to go and be reconciled with their brother or sister (Matthew 18). Sure, it’s uncomfortable but its better, wiser, and true. Who would argue with acting for a saved marriage, a reconciled friendship, a flourishing democracy and yet we refrain from speaking truthfully. Why?

The Fear of Community

I’d like to suggest one general reason why we don’t speak truthfully with one another, then point to a specific reason underneath the reason. In general, we don’t speak truthfully with one another because we perceive no obligation to our community. We don’t live with a mindset that says: “I should look out for others.” We tend to live with a mindset that says: “I should look out for myself.” Marketing is built on this grand presupposition of self-interest. Michael Lerner, author of The Politics of Meaning comments: “The overwhelming majority of people who shape our national media hold the belief that human beings are rarely motivated by anything beyond material self-interest.”

Fundamentally, we see ourselves as individuals, who take for self, not as persons-in-community who give for others. We make withdraws but few deposits. How do we know this is true? I know the temptation in social settings to dodge the deep, to take from others but not to give. Do you encounter this? Do you ask questions, inquire deeply, look to discuss what’s true in social settings? When you walk into a room are you looking to get beyond self-interest? The great news for the church is that we don’t have to live by pure self-interest. In fact, we have a grand motivation for speaking truthfully to one another: “let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another” (Ephesians 4:25). We’re body parts that belong to, rely on, one another, connected by truth and sustained by grace. As Christians, we are not individuals motivated by self-interest but interdependent members that love one another enough to keep the truth circulating in our body. We just need to get back into our own skin. The skin of our collective new humanity.

The Good of Truthful Community

Here’s where the deeper reason comes in. The obstacle to speaking truthfully isn’t just a case of mistaken identity (individual vs. interdependent members). The deeper reason is that we fear the community. Sounds silly, I know. But we really are afraid of what the community thinks of us, particularly if we discuss, correct, exhort or encourage them in the truth. We are fearful of losing their approval. We are like teenagers, dominated by the fear of what our peers think. This is the reason under the reason. We won’t speak truthfully with our church family because we worship their opinion. This is a massive idolatry we sorely need to repent of. Why repent? Because only God is worthy of our fear.  He is worthy because he is great enough to worship, but our community, they’re not worthy of worship. That’s why it is silly to fear the community. They aren’t great enough to adored that much. But this fear keeps us bound from blessing one another with the truth, from sharing the gospel with others, exhorting people to live a holy life, and encouraging one another with words of Scripture. We value comfort over truth. We fear the loss of social comfort. And before we pass off our reluctance to speak truthfully as love, we do well to remember 1 Corinthians 13, where we find that love rejoices in the truth because the truth sets us free. It always serves our good.

Training Elders (or Centrist Masculinity)

As I’m training our current elder candidates, I’ve been significantly encouraged and sharpened by their response to the calling and qualifications of godly eldership. We’re using Strauch’s Biblical Eldership and Bob Thune’s adapted, gospel influenced Study Guide (forthcoming) as a general guide to our training. While these tools are certainly helpful, what has been most significant is gathering with men who care about the deep things of life. As we meet, we’re collectively cultivating a centrist manliness that is neither hyper-masculine nor hyper-feminine but deeply biblical and Jesus-shaped. I sense a “third view” of evangelical manliness emerging from our discussions. Here are few highlights from our time so far.

Gravity and Joy in the Call

Our very first meeting was marked with a gravity and earnestness about being deep men, husbands, and fathers. We went around the table and shared our fears and hopes about the call of elder. I was struck by how seriously these men weighed the call and how personally they embraced the process. Regardless of the outcome, we all agreed that this process would make us better human beings, men, and leaders for our families and church. This really set the tone for a training that is deeply relational not merely theological. This tone has carried over into all our discussions. We leave each 6-7:30am time challenged, inspired, and often changed. I take notes throughout.

Centrist Masculinity Clears Away the Cultural Noise

Our most recent discussion revolved around male eldership and essential masculinity. While we debated both liberal and conservative readings of a host of biblical texts, the real traction began when we considered what an elder who treats (not just sees) women and dignified equals. What would it look like in a church for men to not just affirm masculinity in theory but for them to lead and care for women and children around them? How would it change social interaction, leadership, teaching, City Groups, Fight Clubs, and family life? We are challenging one another to a centrist manliness that flows from a deep conviction about how God has made us and a personal commitment to relate to others out of profound love, grace, and godliness.

Before this can truly happen, we observed that men need to clear away a lot of confusing cultural noise regarding how we interact with women so that we can relate to them as people made in God’s image who deserve godly, genuine attention not social disinterest or general disregard. We identified a few ways forward in cultivating deep, centrist masculinity.

  • Men need to toss aside the inequality of women depicted in objectified advertising, internet porn, and sex-saturated film.
  • Men need to cultivate a deep manliness that overflows in love and care for women through godly deportment and dignifying social interaction.
  • Men need to be dependently prayerful, profoundly Scripture saturated, Jesus formed, and others oriented.

When Church is a Mistress

It’s become hip to rip on the church. People like to blame their problems on “the church.” You can hear these criticisms in popular culture. Take, for instance, Arcade Fire’s song “Intervention”:

Working for the Church while your family dies
You take what they give you and you keep it inside
Every spark of friendship and love will die without a home
Hear the solider groan, “We’ll go at it alone””

The song paints the church as a militant institution, driven by discipline and an over-bearing work ethic. The central character sacrifices his family on the altar of “church” or ministry. This is often true. Churches all too often have more in common with Wall Street than they do Scripture. They enforce a merciless work ethic in the name of “mercy” or “gospel” ministry. All work no play.

There’s a Mistress in the House

My first year of church planting I started a new, full-time job, a new city, a new daughter, and a new church. Guess which one got the least attention? Family. As all these new things filled our lives, they began to crowd conversation with my wife. What was once natural—inquiring about my wife’s hopes, fears, and joys—became unnatural, even absent from our conversation. She patiently continued to ask how I was doing, but I was “working for the church while my family died.”

As my wife began to wither without the invigorating love of her husband, she revealed the affair. I’ll never forget her crushing comment: “I feel like there’s a mistress in the house.” I was alarmed and frustrated. How dare she make such a comparison! After all, I made a point of being home by 5:30 and on weekends. I made sure we had good family rhythms—breakfast and devotions, dinner and downtime. How could she say there was a “mistress” in our home? Then it dawned on me—you can be home without being home. I was present but absent. My thoughts, emotions, and concerns were with another Bride while I was home, not with my bride.

I had felt the gradual distance growing between us, but chalked it up to two kids under two and the important demands of church. I was wrong and Arcade Fire was right. The spark of love cannot live without a home. A house isn’t sufficient. Being present doesn’t cut it. What our relationships need is a home, a place where families can laugh, play, cry, and talk deeply together.

Recovering Your First Love

What was once natural became a discipline. I began to discipline myself to turn conversations away from church, work, and ministry and towards her and our children. I began to love her by asking about her hopes, dreams, fears, to encourage her hobbies and friendships. I relearned how to empathize and suffer, rejoice and laugh with her. Slowly the spark of love began to kindle. The warmth of friendship began to return in our resurrected home. My thought was that discipline could give way to desire. But discipline wasn’t enough.

What my wife wants, what every wife wants, is not a disciplined, duty-driven husband, but a loving, desire-driven husband. A husband whom, when thanked for a weekend get-away without the kids, says to his wife: “It’s my pleasure” not “It’s my duty”! Our wives want to be desired, cherished, valued. In fact, all people want to be cherished, but until we clear the shelf of our hearts of subtle idolatries, discipline will not give way to desire. We must put away our “mistresses.”

Repentance is Good News

In order to put away our sinful lovers, we need a power outside of ourselves. We need the power of repentance and faith. In Revelation 2-3, Jesus calls the seven churches to repentance. For example, he writes to the church at Laodicea: “Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent.” In love, Jesus calls us to zealously repent.

I repented from loving the worth I received from my work, the significance I gained from serving my church. To repent is to turn. When we turn, we turn away from one direction toward another. The proof of repentance is not in our confession or resolve but in turning from our lovers and turning to our Savior. Where do we get the power of repentance? How do we conquer these lesser loves? By Spirit-empowered faith in the promises of God.

Jesus continues: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. ​If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, ​I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me” (3:19). The call to repentance is followed by the promise of satisfaction in Christ. Leave your lovers and turn to your one, true Love. Open the door and Christ will come to you, not only that, he will dine with you. Repentance is a call away from the famine of idolatry to the feast of table fellowship with Christ. Repentance is always good news.

All who over-work and under-love need to repent. We need to confess the idolatries of worth-by-work, of significance-by-service, and turn to face the loving, all-accepting, never-ending significance offered to us in the arms of our Savior’s embrace. Through Spirit-empowered trust in the promises of God, we can draw near to Christ and receive his perfect love, acceptance, and grace. It is from this position alone that we can truly love our wives and families. When we are satisfied in Christ, we can satisfy our wives. When we cherished by Christ, we can freely cherish others.

We don’t have to work for the church, the corporation, or the business while our families die. Every spark of friendship and love does not have to die. We can build a home that is filled with love, if Christ takes center place. When we embrace the practice of repentance and faith in Jesus, the idolatries of work can be cleared away with Christ at the center of our affections. Then and only then are we free to truly love others. When we do this, we will adorn the gospel of Christ and restore the reputation of the Church, revealing the glories of the gospel in gift of marriage.

Stop Going to Church

We spend just enough time “at church” to be religious, but nowhere near enough time to be family.

Read the rest of my new article here.